To say that I’m a planner is an understatement. I’m always making to-do lists and live by my calendar that has repeat reminders for weekly and monthly things I need to get done. When “The Life Changing Magic Of Tidying Up” became popular, I felt instantly validated.
The problem was that all this planning and list making and calendar organization — well it wasn’t actually very organized. I’d have a few different notebooks and sticky notes scattered throughout my apartment, car, and various bags for work. My calendar was stuffed with random papers and often got left at home or work — never where I was when I needed it most.
So you can imagine that it was actually “life changing” when I discovered a few key productivity apps for my phone. Now, I had my to-do lists with me at all times. (Let’s face it: Are we ever more than a few feet away from our phones?) I could sync my calendars and share them with friends and family to keep us all on track. I could get push notifications to remind me to make that doctor’s appointment 6 months from now and send a friend a birthday message.
It’s no surprise that productivity apps have become so popular. Most of us have too many priorities, commitments, work, and other things — and not enough time. But luckily, there are apps — most of them free — you can download to make your life easier, more balanced, more productive, and most importantly, more in control of your time.
Check out this list of some of the year’s most popular apps, organized by category. And download a few to become the most efficient version of yourself.
Time Management & Scheduling Apps
If you’re someone who admittedly needs a little help in the organization department, or if you’re a “Type A” personality who loves planning, then time management and scheduling apps could be a great option for you. These apps help with short- and long-term planning, as well as efficiency, so you can enjoy as much free time as possible.
You want to plan out your days and create to-do lists, but you’re also a minimalist. Blink is the app for you.
For just $0.99, you can create quick memos and reminders in a non-list format. The horizontal layout of information is beneficial to someone who prefers a unique way to list tasks and create reminders or repeating notifications.
If you’re somebody who loves to organize your tasks by the time of the day, Things may be of interest to you. The app, which costs $9.99, has a feature that helps you manage your time by separating your daily tasks into three sections: Today, This Evening, and Tomorrow.
Things also links your to-do lists with your other devices, like your laptop, iPad, etc. In addition to tracking tasks, you can set both short- and long-term goals, and check off the steps that you complete along the way.
Taskful’s progress bar takes completing your to-do list to a new level. The bar moves forward as you continue to check off your tasks throughout the day, giving you a sense of accomplishment. The app even tracks your steps so you can stay in line with both your work and health goals.
Users can create an inbox in Taskful that syncs with other devices and sends email reminders. The app even pushes encouraging messages throughout the day to your device to keep users motivated. If you’re a fan of bright colors, you’ll enjoy the app’s aesthetic as well. Added bonus: Taskful is free.
If you have a Gmail account, chances are you’ve heard about Google Calendar. The app gives users smart suggestions to help them be more productive during the day. These suggestions include ways to easily find times for meetings as well as how to quickly book meeting rooms and locations.
You can invite people to join events on your calendar and create repeating notifications for personal (and group) events or reminders. If you create tasks from your email and want everything to seamlessly integrate, Google Calendar may be the best fit for you.
With Todoist, a user can remind themselves of tasks they need to complete by quickly jotting them down in the app in the same way that you might text a friend. The app will interpret your message and set a task for you based off of the language you used. You can even use a hashtag to categorize the reminder.
For example, if you write, “Send in final draft of paper tomorrow by 4 p.m. #journalism,” the app will then set a reminder for you at 4 p.m. tomorrow in your “Journalism” project. Todoist, which is free, also allows you to effectively manage group work by assigning tasks to different people.
Additionally, you can integrate Todoist with over 60 other apps, including Amazon, Alexa, Dropbox, and Slack, making this a great option for someone who wants to connect their personal to-do list with their workplace to-do list.
Do you ever find yourself aimlessly browsing the internet? Scrolling through your Instagram feed even though you know there is significantly more important work to be done? Staying focused is hard these days — distractions are everywhere. Focus apps will help you stay in control of your tasks and manage your time more effectively.
Are you someone who likes to work in short bursts? Then maybe take a walk, listen to some music, check your emails, or send a text? Focus might be a great addition to your routine.
This free app uses the Pomodoro Technique and places individuals in “Focus Sessions” for 25 minutes at a time. During that 25-minute period, users focus on a task and try to get as much done as possible. After the session ends, they can take a short break. Once the individual completes four 25-minute sessions, they get a 15-20-minute break to do whatever they want.
This task manager also allows you to keep track of the work you have completed throughout the day, so you know what still needs to get done. This is a great option for someone seeking structure and motivation.
Forest is a pretty unique productivity app that works on any iOS device. If you consider yourself an environmentalist, you’re going to love this. When you want to focus, you open the app and virtual trees begin to grow. If you close the app while a tree is growing, you’ll watch it deteriorate.
The app works well for group projects too. It has a feature where the trees can only grow if everyone in the group is on task. As you continue to use Forest, you collect virtual gold coins. When you decide to spend a gold coin, Forest will work with its partner organization, Trees for the Future, to plant a real tree.
Over 273,000 trees have been planted thanks to Forest users. This app is great for people who need a little bit of visual stimulation and motivation, and it only costs $1.99.
Freedom is a good option for people you who find a way around other focus apps and seriously struggle with distractions.
Freedom allows you to block specific sites during the time you want to focus and get work done. There is a pre-generated list of sites you can choose to be blocked from. You can also add to that list if your time-wasting sites aren’t there. You can schedule these focus sessions in advance and even make recurring sessions.
“Lockdown Mode” ensures even the sneakiest of users won’t be able to work around the system and become distracted. Freedom offers users seven free blocking sessions before requiring a subscription fee.
Stay Focusd is a Google Chrome extension that promotes productivity through focus and discipline. The app restricts how long users can stay on the sites that they waste time on.
Once the allotted amount of time on a specific site is up, the user cannot go to that site for the rest of the day. The app blocks all types of sites, subdomains, specific pages, as well as in-page content (videos, games, etc.).
Stay Focusd is a good option for those of you who like to keep a bunch of tabs open while working to occasionally scroll through a social media newsfeed or watch a video on YouTube.
The app forces you to practice good focus habits. And if you don’t feel like working on those habits, don’t worry — the app will block you from all of your time-wasting sites anyway!
Personal productivity apps help you organize your life when things get messy or stressful. They remind individuals of which groceries they need to pick up, what errands they have to run, or who they need to call to say happy birthday.
They tell users how many more steps they need to take to reach that arbitrary, daily goal of 10,000 that we all supposedly need to hit. There are even personal productivity apps that help us meditate and stay in control of our stress levels.
Are you feeling a little high strung? Anxious? Someone who needs a reminder to breathe and relax every now and then?
Mindfulness can help you do just that. Individuals use the app to meditate, relax, and be more present in their daily lives. There are over 200 timed and guided meditation sessions with statistics that help you keep track of your journey.
Mindfulness also has an integration with Apple’s Health App, so you can continue to keep track of all of your personal health goals in one place. The app is free, and the guided meditations range in time from 3-30 minutes. That’s right – 3 minutes. Now you have every excuse to start meditating.
Do you have a bad habit you’re hoping to get rid of completely? Or a good habit you want to retain? Strides combines all of your good habits, the routines you want to continue, and your personal goals into one app.
It has a SMART tracker, meaning the app holds you accountable with reminders and charts to keep you motivated and focused on achieving your goal. The app works well for people who are more visual. Green and red pace line systems track your progress. Strides is a good (and free) option for those of you who want detailed reminders for your daily routines.
Google Keep works a bit like a virtual Post-It Note. Individuals can use this free app on any iOS device. You can write quick lists, create reminders, record a voice memo, and organize all of your notes by color, category, and label.
This app is great for those who need to quickly jot down something while on the move. You can also set reminders for specific notes. Google Keep is a simple way to stay organized and remember tasks that need to be completed.
We are all guilty of oversleeping now and then. Some of us simply aren’t morning people, hitting snooze over and over again and ending up being late for work or other important events. That’s where Kiwake comes into play.
This inexpensive app ($2.99) gets you out of bed with a complete wake-up process that has three main categories: body, brain, and motivation. The app has you take a picture of an object far away from bed prior to going to sleep so you can prove that you got out of bed in the morning.
You can also play a mini-game to wake up your brain while laying in bed. And lastly, you can review your tasks for the day to get motivated and up to speed on what needs to be accomplished. Kiwake does not have a snooze button, so there’s no way around getting up for the day.
It’s safe to say you’ll have time to make breakfast every morning after downloading this app. Extra points for your personal health goals!
One of the most notorious places where people get distracted and fall behind on their work is while they are actually at work. Anyone who sits at a desk behind a computer for an entire week has plenty of opportunities to be inefficient and lose focus.
Workplace productivity apps not only keep you on track with work tasks, but also assist you with managing teams of people, communicating with colleagues, organizing important documents and files, working with PDFs, and more.
Quip is a free app that works well for teams of all sizes that are looking to collaborate easily and share thoughts. Users can edit documents, create spreadsheets, revise task lists, take notes, and message other team members in real time.
You can gain access to all that Quip has to offer on any device, at any time. Quip has integrations with numerous other apps, such as Dropbox and Slack, to make your team’s experience even more streamlined. This is a really simple option for anyone looking to improve organization and communication among team members at work.
CloudApp is a cloud-based communication software that allows you to seamlessly create and share screen recordings, annotated screenshots, GIFs, and more.
By using keyboard shortcuts or the easily-accessible app, you can instantly record tutorials, explain concepts, and more, directly from your screen. This feature will save you time that would otherwise be spent painstakingly drafting a lengthy email. Collaboration is more efficient and more personalized with the webcam recording option.
In addition to screen recordings, you can easily create GIFs and annotated screenshots to collaborate with your team.
If you have ever tried working with a PDF document, you know how finicky they can be.
The PDF Editor is $9.99 and allows you to do all of that. For starters, you’ll be able to change text and images on any PDF that comes your way. Users can even sign, send, and export documents straight from the app.
PDF Expert allows you to write notes and set reminders about different sections of the PDF as you work through the file. This app is great for anyone who needs to give feedback, annotate, or mark up a PDF.
Trello is a free app made for solo or group work. Whether it’s making a to-do list for a quick-turnaround project, managing an editorial calendar, or tracking a 6-month redesign, the app has a layout that works.
Users can list multiple projects at once and make them visible to their whole team on the app’s dashboard. There are project boards with deadlines to clearly lay out the steps necessary to achieve success at the end of the project.
The boards and steps within them can be assigned to a group or one person. Trello has features that give users the ability to attach documents, videos, and pictures. If you’re on a team where people are all working on different pieces of the puzzle at once, Trello is a great way to ensure everyone is on the same page and aware of overall progress.
nTask is a versatile tool with a number of features that help you take care of your everyday organizational needs and requirements.
You can use it as a scheduler, as a workspace for your physical and virtual teams, and also as a meeting hub for all of your conversations with your squad.
You can also use it to create and assign projects to your team -- and you won’t have to worry about your data to get into the wrong hands. nTask has Two-Factor Authentication for extensive security.
Do you use cloud-based file storage? Dropbox? iCloud? Google Drive? If you need to share text files, music, videos, or photos frequently, this app can help.
Documents 6 lets you sync the files and folders you save to the cloud. The app also has a web browser for file downloads and a feature to read, annotate, and edit files.
This file manager is free and a great addition to your toolbox if you’re frequently using cloud-based storage.
Whether it's your email, your workspace, or one of the numerous other accounts you have to sign into every day, it’s safe to say there are a few of us with lists of our usernames and passwords hidden somewhere “safe.” (Yes, I’m guilty too. No, I’m not telling you where my password list is.)
The app is free and securely stores all of your usernames and passwords in the "Vault.” It helps you generate strong passwords and creates online shopping profiles for the sites you frequent most. LastPass automatically enters your login information for you when you visit a site, so there’s no scrambling to find that hidden password list you created.
For those of you who are slightly skeptical about security, LastPass lists their advanced protection system features online, which includes an AES-256 bit encryption (you’re the only one with the password to your encryption key) and the option for additional security, like an optional pin, multi-factor authentication, TouchID, and offline options. With LastPass, you only need to remember one password (your encryption key) to get into all of your online profiles.
Slack is the ultimate team communication app. Whether you have a team of three or 3,000, you can all easily communicate and connect on Slack.
You can communicate in groups of users or channels, which you can name by team or topic. The channels can be company-wide or include just a select group of people. You can also send a direct message to one other person, cutting down on email and speeding up the communication process.
Not only is the chat function easy to use, but you can also share documents, photos, videos, and more. Personally, I’m a fan of the feature that allows you to send GIFs to your co-workers.
There is also app integration with numerous other resources you may be using at the office, such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Twitter. Slack is ideal for those looking to easily communicate and collaborate with a team of any size.
Between work-related emails, personal emails, special offers, and spam, most people have at least one new message every time they open their inbox. There are several productivity apps that help you spend as little time as possible organizing and reading those emails so you can get back to your life and complete your most important tasks.
For those of you who feel bombarded by emails throughout the day, fear not! Trove was created to relieve that stress and help you flag the most important emails you need to read and respond to immediately — or later on.
The app provides insights on the mail you are receiving and sending. You can flag an email as Radar, Nudge, or Connect. You can use these flags to remind yourself about which messages you need to respond to and which people you need to follow up with for a response.
If you’re someone who not only receives a lot of emails but also needs to respond to them quickly, then Trove is a great (and free) opportunity to keep your connections and thoughts organized.
Astro assists with both your email and calendar productivity. The app provides users with an assistant – virtual, of course – that helps you organize your emails by importance. The assistant works with you to create follow-up reminders and adds them to your in-app calendar.
Astro efficiently manages your email and calendar so you know exactly what needs to get done first. Any email that needs immediate attention is highlighted. You can unsubscribe from emails while in the app, as well as move your most important messages into a “Focus Inbox.” Astro is free and has a Slack integration.
Newton is another popular email productivity app that has several more features than the other two options mentioned above. It’ll cost you a monthly subscription fee, but it may be worth it.
Newton has read receipts, sender profiles, instant push notifications, undo send, snooze (so your emails come back to you at a more convenient time), and a “Tidy Inbox,” which separates important emails from junk mail and spam.
Users can access Newton through all devices, and it works with other email platforms, such as Gmail, Outlook, iCloud, Google Apps, and more. Newton is a much more in-depth email productivity app for those who find themselves overwhelmed by a constant flow of incoming messages.
Writing Apps & Note-Taking Apps
Are you someone who's constantly jotting down notes, thoughts, and to-do lists, and then forgetting where those lists are? Sometimes you need to quickly record information, and other times you need extensive notes on a specific topic. Writing and note-taking productivity apps have functions that help users record information in an efficient manner, with plenty of editing, sharing, annotating, organizing, and exporting options.
Bear is a free app that works well for anyone looking to type out a quick list of things to remember or even those who need to write a long essay. Users can link their notes together, organize their thoughts in a way that makes sense to them, and write in plain text so exporting and converting notes to a PDF or uploading to a CMS is simple.
Bear has a clean, minimalist aesthetic for those who prefer a minimalist look. The app organizes your notes through hashtags, so you always know in which section your work is located.
Professionals, teachers, and students can all benefit from this writing app. The app, which costs $9.99, is a simple tool used for paperless note-taking, PDF annotating, free handwriting, and sketching (if you aren’t a fan of typing). Users can complete and sign all types of documents with Notability, and send them straight from the app.
If you’re someone who enjoys both writing and typing notes, then Notability could be a great option for you. The app has a feature that turns written notes into typed notes, so you can keep all of your information in one place. Additionally, if you’re in an important meeting or class and want to ensure you don’t miss a beat, you can record audio as well.
The app even has a function to build checklists and detailed outlines if you want to write in-depth pieces while in class or at work. And don’t worry about saving all of your information to Notability and losing it. All of your work is backed up to the cloud, making it easy to access it from anywhere.
This app is the modern way to take notes and has useful features for personal, educational, and professional use.
Evernote is more of a notepad-planner hybrid. If you find yourself writing shorter notes or wanting a place to jot down a to-do list, Evernote might be more tailored to your needs than Notability (though they do share many of the same features).
The app allows users to write or dictate notes, sketch, and share documents with other devices. You can also make an agenda and create a checklist. If you like having your notes and to-do lists in the same place, then Evernote works well.
Evernote is free, but you can always upgrade for a monthly fee to get access to premium features.
The Hemingway Editor app is exceptionally useful to anyone who writes often. The app makes your writing as clear and concise as possible by bringing wordy prose to your attention. It’s kind of like having your own virtual editor.
Additionally, the app highlights adverbs, passive voice, and complicated statements to help you become a more impactful writer. The Hemingway Editor also allows you to publish directly to Medium and WordPress. All of these features make the $19.99 price tag worth it.
And don’t worry if you’re thinking, “Sounds great, but I like to write from the beach or the mountains.” The app works offline, so you can continue writing from your favorite internet-free, inspirational locations.
Are you someone who finds handwriting notes inefficient? Maybe you’re a fast typer but you still find yourself in situations where you can’t keep up with a speaker or lecturer?
Voice-to-text productivity apps are a great solution to these problems. Just hit record, and the app will transcribe the audio, so you can go back and listen later.
Otter is a note-taking app that combines audio, speaker identification, and transcription. The app is a useful tool for journalists and students alike. If you ever need a “chill” day where you can sit back and listen rather than furiously take notes, you should try this app.
The app is designed to transcribe long-form conversation, so don’t worry if you find yourself in a long lecture. Otter will identify each of the people based on their voices if you’re listening to multiple speakers or are interviewing multiple people. If you’re a visual person, then the app will also work well for you — it highlights the words it transcribes in real time.
And if 600 free minutes of transcription isn't enough for your lectures, classes, and interviews, you can upgrade your account to premium and get 6,000 minutes of recording time.
Descript is another transcribing app with audio word processing and web publishing functions. It’s a useful tool for those who conduct regular interviews, want accurate quotes from their subjects, and hope to share their audio with listeners online. This is a great option for those times that require you to take in a lot of information both efficiently and accurately.
Descript is exceptionally helpful in interview scenarios. Once the app transcribes your audio, you can edit, cut, and remix the recording. The editing “Wordbar” is a feature that sets this app apart from competitors. The horizontal bar allows you to easily drag words closer together to get rid of unnatural pauses or separate them to give the listener a moment to breathe and understand what they just heard.
With Descript, you can also publish your audio and collect comments from listeners on the web. You can also export your audio from Descript to multiple other platforms, including Avid Pro Tools and Apple Logic Pro X.
The app costs $0.07 per minute (after you use your first free 30 minutes of transcription).
Meeting & Scheduling Apps
The last type of productivity app I’ll mention is helpful for those of you who need scheduling support. This includes social media planning, scheduling in-person workplace meetings, and event planning.
These apps will make it easy to stay on top of your editorial calendar and reduce the frustrating back and forth that happens when trying to schedule meetings.
Do you run multiple social media accounts? Post to one or more platform multiple times per day? Search the web for images and fun articles to inspire your work and engage your followers? Crowdfire can help you with all of these tasks.
The app, which is free, is a way for users to schedule their social media posts — which may include multiple pictures and videos — in advance. Crowdfire then gives users the analytics behind their posts so they are able to track engagement and see what’s working and what needs to be modified.
Crowdfire is a simple app with features that go a long way since successful social media planning takes time and effort. With a planning app like Crowdfire, you can sit down and work on your company's social media accounts for a specific amount of time, then have your work automatically post whenever you choose. No more headaches when it comes to social!
When you’re trying to book a meeting, get together with friends, schedule a book club, or plan any other event that includes multiple people, it can be hard to find a day and time that works for everyone. Sending texts and emails back and forth to find a date that works is inefficient and time-consuming. That’s where Doodle comes in.
This free app allows users to find the best date and time for any event by suggesting a number of options for invitees to select their preferences. Doodle is so user-friendly that your invitees don’t even need the app to choose their preferences. It works via iMessage, Facebook, WhatsApp email, and more. There is even a calendar integration to avoid any confusion between you and your invitees. Doodle is the ultimate way to get as many people as possible to attend your important meeting, party, or event.
Distractions, mismanaged time, and procrastination are all cutting into our ability to be productive. No matter your personality or work ethic, there is a productivity app that can help you. Think of them as friendly bits of technology that can measurably improve your ability to work efficiently.
Productivity apps are tools that not only impact the quality of your work but the time you spend away from work. Who doesn’t want to spend less time worrying about being productive and more time actually getting things done?
Originally published Jun 25, 2018 7:30:00 AM, updated June 11 2021